Bellevue School District has an ITCH to Scratch

I recently worked with the Bellevue School district to provide eight hours of Computer Science (CS) professional development (PD) for the elementary teachers.

The group of 70 teachers started the day in one large group, and the first thing that struck me was the number of interactive activities for the teachers.  I am used to business/sales meetings where speakers or panel of speakers lecturing to the audience.  The teacher training engaged the teachers rather than lecturing.  The PD kicked off with a fun kahoot! quiz including a series of questions on CS statistics in the United States, such as “Did any states have zero students passing AP CS?”  Teachers responded to each question and the results were projected as bar graphs to show what the audience thought versus the real answer. (In this case, the answer was “yes”. Several states had no students pass AP CS, such as Montana).

After the first activity, we split into two groups.  K-3 teachers focused on Code.org training, and 4-5 teachers focused on ITCH.  In Washington schools are not required to provide CS education at the elementary level, so it is important to note that all the teachers at this event were there voluntarily from their belief that coding is an essential content area for their students.

I surveyed the fourth and fifth grade teachers with some interesting results.  Even with the hour of code resources and a large push for CS in the Bellevue School District, it was interesting to find that 40% of teachers had never taught any CS.  Another interesting takeaway was that a high proportion of the teachers in attendance were looking to gain confidence when bringing coding in their classroom.

While working in a variety of schools, I have found that teacher confidence is a consistent issue. Coding is such an open ended activity that even with 20 years of coding under my belt I am pretty much guaranteed to run into new problems, even with younger students, that require unique or novel solutions.  Teachers are used to being the fountain of knowledge for their students, so it is quite different for them to be teaching coding when much of the time they won’t just “know the answer”.  I have a flow chart I came across at the Scratch MIT conference that addresses this concern and help teachers navigate coding problems with their class.

I helped lead the teachers through an ITCH lesson, and it was fun seeing many of them, for the first time, creating projects with code. This was a powerful activity as it removed the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) once they gained confidence to experiment and create their own unique projects.  It was important to give the teachers this experience as a student, especially with such a large group of “never having coded before” teachers.

After engaging with ITCH,  I lead teachers through the ITCH teacher view and classroom management strategies. Several of the teachers had used Scratch offline in previous years (due to district privacy concerns they did not use the online version of Scratch). ITCH solved that problem, and the teachers were clearly pleased.  Check out the video below for some common comments from this group of teachers. They are excited to have a complete solution in place that combines the lessons, projects and student collaboration of ITCH.

In addition to the ITCH activities, I introduced the elementary teachers to off-line ideas.  Being elementary teachers, they often need to get the kids up and moving around.  Having early elementary students sit for 45 minutes at a terminal isn’t realistic, so I went over resources the teachers can use for “Unplugged” activities.  There are several resources out there for unplugged activities from code.org, csunplugged and some we have created in ITCH such as a broadcast notification activity.  The teachers all participated in a bubble sort with paper cups outside. These activities helped provide even more confidence because teachers have resources if they have technical difficulties or if they need a different way for students to visualize difficult CS concepts.

The day wrapped up with a session to review the day’s main learning objectives  and several points came out of this.  Overall, I think, most teachers came away with the confidence, resources, a support system, and a game plan on how they will introduce CS to their students over the next year. At Ucodemy  we are excited to be on this journey with them, and we look forward to seeing more excited students creating their dreams and futures.

Click here to learn more about ITCH.

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